BOZICH | Louisville football in a rush to improve three-headed running game
Quarterback Lamar Jackson was Louisville's leading rusher last season but the Cardinals have a "three-headed monster," they expect to carry the load in 2016.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I have studied the University of Louisville football depth chart and uncovered the player that I believe will lead the team in rushing:
Actually, it’s L.J. Smith.
Hold it. Make that Jeremy Radcliff.
"We're going to be a three-headed monster," said Scott, whose first name is actually L. J.
"We can all do everything; we bring that dog out when we get the ball in our hands as running backs," said Radcliff, a senior that you know as Brandon.
Yes, Louisville needs an improved passing attack if the Cardinals intend to overtake either Florida State or Clemson and move above third place in the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
An overall team completion percentage of 55.5 percent with 15 interceptions is unlikely to win the ACC. There is a reason Bobby Petrino has focused on coaching quarterback Lamar Jackson into becoming a confident pocket presence, more dangerous throwing than running.
But Jackson is not the only guy who must improve. Running backs coach Kolby Smith said Scott, Radcliff, Jeremy Smith, Malin Jones and others are capable of 100-yard performances.
If you study the Petrino DNA you know the coach is eager to run the football.
The Cards averaged 171 yards per game rushing last season. That was average performance -- on the national level -- but considerably less than the standard Petrino's offense set at Louisville from 2003-06.
Louisville ranked 64th in rushing yards per game in 2015 among 128 FBS programs. The Cards' running game was not as productive as 18 teams that finished the season ranked in the Top 25, but better than programs like Michigan State, Michigan or even Florida State.
During Petrino's first run through Louisville, when the Cardinals went 41-9 (not against ACC competition) they ran with more gusto. Each of those teams averaged at least 185 yards per game. Over the four-season stretch the Cards delivered about 213 yards per game rushing.
Smith played on those four teams. A decade later, he said Petrino's philosophy has not changed.
"We plan on using all of them in various roles but as the motto goes, we feed the stud, for sure," Smith said.
"It's been like that forever with coach Petrino even when I played here. When Eric Shelton was hot, he was running. When (Lionel) Gates was hot, he was running. Then you had Michael Bush. When he got hot, you'd better look out."
In 2015 when somebody got hot, it was usually Jackson. The quarterback had more rushing yards (960) than the top two backs (Radcliff, 634; Smith, 270) combined.
"Obviously last year we didn't grind as hard as we needed to," Radcliff said. "We came out and we had that 0-3 start and that was something we never want to go back to. We want to start off on a good note and finish on an even better note."
"I think this season you won't be able to say the offense is one thing or another," Scott said. "It will be a very total offense."
Does that mean the talk the defense carried the offense the last two seasons was valid?
"Very valid," Scott said. "We've been a very young offense, a very inconsistent offense. I think this year we'll be able to make a statement."
One statement Scott, Radcliff and Kolby Smith all made was Jackson would not be the team's leading rusher in 2016.
Jackson was terrific last season, the second-best running quarterback in America. He averaged nearly 6 yards per carry, scoring 11 touchdowns. Jackson punished Kentucky by crackling for 186 yards and Texas A&M by flashing for another 226.
But it's risky letting your quarterback run 14 times per game. Concussions. Knees. Shoulders. Ankles. Wrists. You know the list.
Radcliff (five times) and Scott (once) have all shown they're capable of 100-yard performances. Jeremy Smith had a three-week stretch against Boston College, Wake Forest and Syracuse last season when he averaged 5.5 yards on 33 carries.
"L.J. provides everything," Scott said. "He's one of the smartest players on our whole team. He knows everything. He's got the softest and best hands on the team. He won't go down the first time.
"They all know the offense," Smith said. "They've been in it for more than a year. They all bring something different and that's what makes us who we are. I'm excited to see each and every one of them play this year."
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